MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As K-State fans exited their Octagon feeling wholly satiated and West Virginia deep-sighed through explanations of a third consecutive loss, Juwan Staten continued his streak of patient postgame ponderings.
Saturday’s 78-56 loss was bereft of the feel-good traits that marked some of WVU’s more competitive losses, and Staten—his statistically superb junior season on the verge of being negated by a nonsuperb win-loss record—was asked yet again what the Mountaineers could do to right things.
First, that’s a tricky spot for Staten. After all, why would a 21-year-old point guard know how to retool a team when the answer eludes even his coach who’s four decades older and 700-plus wins wiser? But Staten offered a theory, one that involves him and sophomores Eron Harris and Terry Henderson pushing teammates harder.
“We’ve tried to be positive in practice, be role models in practice, but we might have to start getting on people a little bit more,” Staten said. “Once the coaches yell at you so many times, it turns into a thing where you start blocking them out. It really takes someone else to start drilling something into someone’s head. We need to start being more firm with each other.”
Clearly, all options are open right now, considering West Virginia has been dominated in its last two games by teams picked one spot ahead and one spot behind it in the Big 12 preseason poll. Whereas Texas and K-State opened this season with the same middling expectations as West Virginia, both are on pace to wind up with NCAA tournament invites.
West Virginia, which figures to be an underdog in 11 of its final 13 regular-season games, is on pace to record a second straight losing season.
Said Staten: “After playing two games and getting blown out like we have, we’ve got to change something.”
But what? In mid-freefall, where do the Mountaineers turn? Staten sounded rather coach-like by encouraging teammates to approach practices and game preparation with more passion. Zeal, however, becomes tougher to generate when swagger is slipping and confidence is reaching drought proportions.
As Harris admitted: “I’m just in a state where I don’t know what to do. I’m running out of answers for everything.”
The schedule does WVU a favor Wednesday night by bringing in Texas Tech for the return game. After that, however, the Mountaineers face a nine-game stretch against teams in the RPI top 43.
In case you’re wondering, WVU has dropped 18 consecutive against the RPI top 100.
The truth is we may have seen West Virginia’s ceiling this season—a team that on its best night can’t quite overcome quality opponents. And a team that on other nights has no shot at all.